This Engineer Quit His Job & Has Gone Solo Backpacking On A Budget To 5 Countries & 93 Cities

I believe ‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’. I am Arun Kumar an engineer from Chennai, yes the same Chennai where our PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited for an informal summit. For a passionate backpacker like me, travelling is not only fun but it’s a way from me to learn more about myself. When I take the road I have learned to accept everything that comes my way and adapt to any situation. So here’s my personal journey and your guide to being a solo traveller and backpacker.

How I Became A Backpacker?

Ever since my childhood, I always had the notion to be a traveller, but I needed to be rich. After my degree, I had a total workaholic life. The goals of my life intertwined with my goals at work – meeting targets, deadlines and managing the work pressure. No matter how much I earned and how hard I worked, I always felt that I didn’t earn enough to become a traveler. When my father retired from his job and was ready to take care of my mother, the situation posed as a window for me to take a step towards my travel desires.

After some thorough research, I finally had my Eureka moment when I came to know about the concept of ‘backpacking’. It was the cheapest and best way to travel the world. And all my myths of having to become rich to travel the world, shattered in a minute. I could now, have my cake and eat it too.

But first, I had to convince my parents about my new lifestyle choice. As you know, it can be quite tough to deal with Indian parents at times. Nevertheless, their support and blessings make everything achievable. But I did have a plan to convince them. My father loves Japan and Japanese products. So I hosted a Japanese traveller at my place. I made him tell my family, the benefits and learnings I could experience from travel. And that’s how my family realized how beautiful travel can be to hone a person’s skills.

So on 23rd November 2018, I quit my full-time job and became a full-time backpacker. I was free, happy and most of all I could now do whatever I want. And that’s a unique feeling. For all those people who still think that you need tons of money to travel the world, I hope my travel stories and tips can inspire you too.

Planning A Budget Trip

When it comes to planning a budget trip, first and foremost I pre-plan the countries and places I intend to go. I install an app on my mobile to calculate my day to day budget while travelling. I maintain a per-day budget of ₹100 to ₹120. This is the way I plan my trip keeping a strict per day budget in mind.

Every budget traveller, like me, has to spend on 3 basic things- Transportation, Food and Accommodation. So let me break it up to you and give you an insight about how I plan my trip and what I do to maintain my budget regarding Transportation, Food and Accommodation. 

Also Read: I Met My Partner On A Solo Trip To Hampi, Got Married And Started Travelories

Transportation While Backpacking

Contrary to popular beliefs, transport is an expensive affair while travelling. But in the backpacking route, it’s not. I travel all over the country only by hitchhiking. Whether it’s travelling by private car, motorbike, truck, mini truck, caravan or a van, hitchhiking is my go-to for a commute. In this way, I never spend on transportation even if it’s within the city or the highways I just opt for hitchhiking.

If I don’t get a lift I walk further way for a nice place to get a lift, so based on the situation I change my journey that’s how I travelled more than 4000 km. Another plus point about hitchhiking is the opportunity to have beautiful conversations with the locals. Be it sharing stories, having a meal together or even discussing our lives in general, hitchhiking has brought about plenty of lovely memories in my life.

Accommodation While Backpacking 

The Couch Surfing app on my phone is a real blessing for a backpacker like me. About 80% of the time I do get great, reasonable accommodation wherever I go. Whether the people whose homes I stay in are men or women, it doesn’t matter to me. I am happy to adjust to their homes even if they don’t have a bed. Most of the time during my travel, I do get my place for rest sorted.

Couch surfing also helps me to experience authentic local food, lifestyle and immerse myself in the culture of the place. People are warm and hospitable and its a great experience for me. There are also times when I don’t find a place to spend the night. So I always carry a sleeping bag and a tent with me. During those times I find a temple,  stupa, church, mosque, school or even a college and pitch my tent there to rest for the night.

Food While Backpacking

When it comes to food, around 90% of the time during my travel, I avoid eating at restaurants. I instead have dried grapes and chickpeas. I soak chickpeas at night and eat it in the morning. It’s nutritious and easy to eat. In urgent cases, I buy fruits and vegetables and cook them. Sometimes I even volunteer to do some kind of work in exchange for a meal. My photography skills come into play and I click wonderful photos in exchange for the food or accommodation. This is how I have travelled around 7456 km for 6 months by spending just around ₹23,550. Yes, it requires a lot of patience and commitment, but the result is just extraordinary.

The Places I Have Visited 

I have visited many places in India and even its neighbouring countries. As a solo traveller and backpacker, I have visited Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Agra, Delhi, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Assam, Sikkim, Manipur and even countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand and Myanmar.  

And out of all these places I have visited, if you ask me one place that stands out the most, I would definitely say it’s Nepal. Can you imagine that I actually went trekking there, without even spending a single dime? Yes, I know it’s hard to believe. But with a bit of luck, miracles can happen, and before you know it, you to could be standing atop the Himalayas asking yourself, “how did I do this!?” From this journey I hope to create awareness that anyone can travel the world – you don’t have to be rich. Thinking back on my travels, so far this idea drove me the most.

Trekking In Nepal

While I may be a solo traveller I didn’t do this alone, a lot of people have helped me to do this and without them what I have done would never have been possible. When I walked deeper into the Himalayas, I soon realized why Nepal is known to be one of the best places in the world to trek. If you’re travelling to Nepal, irrespective of your ability or fitness, you MUST trek. You’ll be missing out on a huge part of what the country has to offer if you don’t!

When it came to food, to be honest, the prices of food while trekking is pricey for Nepali standards because they need to transport all food and materials via jeep or mule from the cities up to the mountains. Even though I was on a very low budget with the help of my now fellow Nepali friends I was able to get through the trek. And I couldn’t have done it without them. From this trip, I’ve come to realize the real genuine kindness of Nepali people.

Then comes the question, which trek is ‘the’ one for me? First and foremost it depends on how many days you have and are prepared to walk for. Some of the most popular, rewarding and beautiful treks include- Everest base camp – 5380 meters (10 days), Annapurna base camp – 4130 meters ( 8 days), Poon Hill – 3210 meters (3 days) and Mardi Himal – 4580 metres (5 days). Out of all these incredible treks, I choose the 5 days trek to Mardi Himal, where I covered around 4580 metres. Besides, check out Inspirational Story Of Megha Parmar: First Woman From Madhya Pradesh To Climb Mount Everest

My Favourite Trek- Mardi Himal

During my 5 days trek to Mardi Himal, I trekked across the sub-tropical jungle, pine forests, and snow-capped peaks. A local friend of mine, Hari provided me with food and accommodation along the way. Another reason why Mardi Himal will ways be a special trek for me is also that it was my first ever trek. Before this trek, I stayed in Pokhara in Nepal for a week, learned a lot about trekking, picked some trekking apparel at a Sunday flea market and even a hot flask and a scarf. A kind Russian woman graciously gifted me a warm jacket too.
I started my trek to Mardi Himal from Pokhara at 7:30 am and around 7 pm I reached Landruk. I stayed for a day in Landruk to enjoy the spectacular mountain views with the local village people. I have also gifted a trekking pole here, which came in handy. At 6:30 am the next morning I set off from Landruk to high camp, getting there at around 5:40 pm. It was a big day!! On the 4th day of my trek, I woke up just before dawn to a breathtaking view of the mountains and star-filled sky. I felt like I was on some kind of distant alien planet. It was unreal! I also met many more great people who gave me their gloves and trekking shoes me that they no longer needed. And on the final day of my trek I embarked on the last day of the journey at 4 am in the morning to reach Mardi Himal 7: 00 am. Finally, I witnessed the SNOW! This was the first time in my life seeing snow – I did it! As cheesy as it sounds – it was a magical experience and I stood still for a while to just watch the snowflakes gracefully make their way to the ground.
Having lived in Chennai, India all my life where there is sun all year round, the only time that I’ve seen anything close to snow was from my parent’s old icebox or the skating rink in the malls. At this point, the air really had a cold bite to it but in awe of the snow, I didn’t really notice it. The fresh snowfall left the mountain peaks packed with those beautiful white flakes, made for a great view. This is the moment I waited for. How do I feel at the top of the mountain Mardi Himal? Upon reaching the peak of the trek an overwhelming sense of accomplishment overcame me, against all odds (well mainly my tiny budget) I did it!! I felt I received the blessings from the majestic Himalayan mountains at 4500 Meter above the sea level.
So, from my experience, if you ask me if anyone can do trekking, I would say yes, yes and yes!! If I can do it, anyone can. I would suggest you do your research and pick a trek that’s right for you. Be safe, and go for your life  You won’t regret it. While I went trekking without even spending a single rupee why can’t anyone travel the world with what they have?

My Insane Experience In Uttar Pradesh

I am now going to share an insane experience, which I would like to call a miracle that happened to me while solo hitchhiking in Uttar Pradesh. To come straight to the point, when I was hitchhiking, a truck driver robbed my DSLR camera. So it all started from place name Adilabad. I got a lift from a truck driver to go to Delhi. I was happy cause I was heading towards Agra, so I thought could drop me on the way.
Everything was hunky-dory initially. The truck driver called me Anna ( brother) and we happily chatted during our journey. Like I said, All izz well! During the second day of my travel with him, I unhesitatingly took out my camera and started clicking pictures. I guess that was the first time he saw my DSLR. Around 10 pm on the same day, he informed me that he was going to his home, so he would drop me in Lalitpur, in Uttar Pradesh. Since I had a sleeping bag and a tent, this last-minute change in location didn’t really bother me. So I accepted his offer.

Around 1:30 am in the midnight, I was fast asleep in the truck when the driver stopped and told me to get down in Lalitpur. The highway was dark there were no houses around and the place was quiet and eerie. The truck driver and I were the only living beings in that area. My driver told me to get down here. But he didn’t allow me to touch my backpack. He told me to get down first, then he would help me to get my backpack. The minute the driver gave me my backpack, he started the truck and took off. And I was left wondering what the friendly truck driver with whom I had been spending my last two days, took off so suddenly without even bidding me goodbye. What did the hell happen? After a few minutes, I feel my backpack, which felt weightless. When I opened it to my utter shock there was no camera!! I got robbed. So I am standing in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, robbed of my most precious possession, my DSLR camera.

I stood still at the same place for more than 20 minutes, shocked to the core. I didn’t know what to do I was frustrated and cheated. There was no one around to help me too. And then when I was checking my mobile phone I came to know that I luckily had a photograph of the truck with its number plate. I immediately found out the nearby police station walked towards it. This was the first time in my life that I had ever entered a police station.  I never expected that my journey in Uttar Pradesh would start from a police station. I was frustrated and moreover in a dilemma – whether to continue my journey or not! Imagine a situation where you enter a state for the first time and you get robbed. You don’t know how to communicate in Hindi and there is no one there to help you. Well, that’s how my situation was, on my first day in Uttar Pradesh.

The police officers in Uttar Pradesh were busy chewing tobacco and didn’t understand a word of English. And I didn’t know a word of Hindi. Thanks to Google translate, I was somehow able to communicate my plight with them.
Meanwhile, I came to know Uttar Pradesh is famous for robbery and murder. And in comparison to that, my camera theft is pretty much nothing for the police officers. Since they were busy handling such kind of cases, they denied registering a complaint.
They might have denied registering a complaint, but I denied to give up. After all, I did have the truck number and also the truck cleaner’s phone number. So I didn’t leave the police station and slept there in my sleeping bag. I told myself that no matter what happens, I would not leave until I got my camera back. The next day seeing my perseverance, the police officer as a formality told me to write about the incident on a piece of paper, but in Hindi. So I went to a nearby Xerox shop, got a printout & gave it to them. But the shopkeeper there had already told me not to waste my time here and instead go to the superintendent of police nearby for help.  But even there, I wasn’t in much luck. At around 8 pm, I decided to pitch a tent and once again sleep at the police quarters for the night. That’s when I unknowingly entered the cybercrime branch room in the superintendent’s quarters.

Thankfully one person there knew English and I was able to explain my story to him. Within 20 minutes he took all the details regarding the truck driver, where the truck’s from, truck owner etc. I was told to wait until tomorrow until the investigations began. In the mean while thanks to Couchsurfing I got a place to stay in a Bundlekande family home. The truck owner was called by the police. He was threatened that if he doesn’t cooperate to track the driver, his truck company would be in problems. The driver was contacted and he claimed innocence. But finally claimed that ‘maybe’ I forgot my camera in his truck.

I let out a sigh of relief when I came to know that the driver was traced and I will soon be getting my camera back. The police told me that they would get me back my camera since it might be unsafe for me. But amidst all this chaos and worries I was still somehow at peace all thanks to the family at Uttar Pradesh who took care of me like their own. I even visited Vrindavan with them and played Holi together. They warmly hosted me here in spite of me staying with them for more than 10 days. They were truly incredible people.
Finally, after around 15 days, I received my DSLR camera back. The truck driver gave the camera to the truck owner, from the truck owner it reached the police officers and at last, I was reunited with my precious DSLR camera. My faith and utter belief in miracles paid off well. The twist? Thanks to my photograph, I was able to know the number plate of the truck. So after this incident, I was totally changed, man. You know, I was a God damn lazy guy who used to procrastinate a lot, but from this incident, I learned the power of never ever giving up. Had I given up on the first day itself, I would have never got my camera back.
This incident is definitely one of my most unforgettable moments during my solo backpacking journey. The reason I’m sharing this story is to tell you the importance of finding the good in bad situations. When you go travelling especially as a backpacker, you might face some problems on the way, but remember it will all upgrade your skills.
So if you are in a dilemma to go for a solo trip as a backpacker, I say just go for it. You will end up with hundreds of beautiful memories and learnings. This is one of the best examples I can give you. Do you need any more reasons to go travelling?

My Tips To People Wanting To Go Backpacking

Here are some of my tips to those of you who would like to go backpacking.
  1.  Minimize your desire.
  2. Make sure you know why you want to travel, what type of travel you’d like to do. And plan your trip according to that.
  3. Try to avoid purchasing anything in a tourist spot. As everything will be expensive or around 25% higher than the exact price.
  4. Where ever you are, try to learn the basics of the local language. Thanks to knowing the basics of the local language, I was able to buy an earplug for ₹50 which was sold for ₹450 to a tourist.
  5. Always track your expenditure & spending.
  6. Know what are the places you want to go to. Discuss with the local people and finalize the plan, because there will be some difference between what you see online and experiencing the same on the spot.
  7. Don’t compare your way of life and travelling style with others. That’s the very big mistake I did.
  8. Travel within your budget, with what you have.
  9. When you travel don’t get addicted to clicking too many selfies and photographs. It may lead to wastage of your valuable time.
  10. Carry a solar cell phone charger( to charge cell phone batteries), UV protection band( protect your hand from tanning), baseball cap( protects you from direct sun rays), lightweight walking shoes, mountain hiking socks, sleeping bag, sunscreen, passport, basic apparel, trimmer( if you’re a guy), camping tent, power bank, a good backpack, water bottle, eye mask, noise protection earplug, blanket, towel, light snacks or dried fruits.

  1. Hitchhiking is like riding a two-wheeler. You have a chance of 10% – 15% to meet with an accident but you still, ride with self-confidence and faith. Similarly, when it comes to hitchhiking,  it’s all about the trust you have on the person. Ask to yourself, can I trust this guy or not? When you find out you’re not ok with the ride, just don’t go. If you are in between, tell them to stop and get down. Avoid hitchhiking after 7 pm.
  2. Use Couchsurfing and hostels for accommodation,
  3. Use Google Maps & Maps Me to plan and search routes.
  4. Go camping in or near Mosques, Stupas, pagodas, temples, churches or any spiritual shrine.
  5. Women solo travellers, let nothing stop you from your dreams. Take the necessary precautions and go for it. I have met a lot of women solo travellers from Slovenia, Russia, Germany, France, Netherlands, Scotland and Argentina. In fact, a Russian solo woman traveller taught me all about camping.
  6. Above all, have trust and faith in yourself and you can achieve anything.

My Learnings From Backpacking

Through backpacking, I found out who I am and what I am capable of. I learned more about my strengths, weaknesses what I can and what I can’t do. I learnt to survive in unfamiliar terrains and in situations where I didn’t know anything about the food, language, culture and people. My perspective on the importance of money completely changed after travelling. I realised that money is not the only important thing in my life, there are many more precious and beautiful things out there in this world. My journey as a backpacker as taught me how important it is to take a break from one’s hectic life. When my DSLR camera got stolen, I learnt the importance of perseverance and a ‘never give up’ attitude. Backpacking is definitely one of the best & cheapest ways to travel the world. So make your own route and don’t depend on anyone or anything to achieve your travel dreams.

Check out my travel stories here 

This article was related to Curly Tales by Arun Kumar and written by Sanjana Shenoy. If you have a story to tell us, drop us an email to hey@curlytales.com

Sanjana Shenoy
Suggested Articles